She opened the door and looked across the alley, and saw with some satisfaction that his blind was illuminated. She closed the door behind her sharply, and then stood gasping on the doorstep. So simultaneous were the two happenings that it actually appeared as though the closing of the door had blown Mr. Wilks’s lamp out. It was a night of surprises, but after a moment’s hesitation she stepped over and tried his door. It was fast, and there was no answer to her knuckling. She knocked louder and listened. A door slammed violently at the back of the house, a distant clatter of what sounded like saucepans came from beyond, and above it all a tremulous but harsh voice bellowed industriously through an interminable chant. By the time the third verse was reached Mr. Wilks’s neighbours on both sides were beating madly upon their walls and blood-curdling threats strained through the plaster.
She stayed no longer, but regaining her own door sat down again to await the return of her son. Mr. Silk was long in coming, and she tried in vain to occupy herself with various small jobs as she speculated in vain on the meaning of the events of the night. She got up and stood by the open door, and as she waited the clock in the church-tower, which rose over the roofs hard by, slowly boomed out the hour of eleven. As the echoes of the last stroke died away the figure of Mr. Silk turned into the alley.
“You must ’ave ’ad quite a nice walk,” said his mother, as she drew back into the room and noted the brightness of his eye.
“Yes,” was the reply.
“I s’pose ’e’s been and asked you to the wedding?” said the sarcastic Mrs. Silk.
Her son started and, turning his back on her, wound up the clock. “Yes, ’e has,” he said, with a, sly grin.
Mrs. Silk’s eyes snapped. “Well, of all the impudence,” she said, breathlessly.
“Well, ’e has,” said her son, hugging himself over the joke. “And, what’s more, I’m going.”
He composed his face sufficiently to bid her “good-night,” and, turning a deaf ear to her remonstrances and inquiries, took up a candle and were off whistling.
[Illustration: “He took up his candle and went off whistling.”]
The idea in the mind of Mr. James Hardy when he concocted his infamous plot was that Jack Nugent would be summarily dismissed on some pretext by Miss Kybird, and that steps would at once be taken by her family to publish her banns together with those of Mr. Silk. In thinking thus he had made no allowance for the workings and fears of such a capable mind as Nathan Smith’s, and as days passed and nothing happened he became a prey to despair.
He watched Mr. Silk keenly, but that gentleman went about his work in his usual quiet and gloomy fashion, and, after a day’s leave for the purpose of arranging the affairs of a sick aunt in Camberwell, came back only a little less gloomy than before. It was also clear that Mr. Swann’s complaisance was nearly at an end, and a letter, couched in vigorous, not to say regrettable, terms for a moribund man, expressed such a desire for fresh air and exercise that Hardy was prepared to see him at any moment.